Pontifications: Retrospective of KC-X tanker competition

The first in a series.

By Scott Hamilton

Dec. 6, 2021, © Leeham News: The US Air Force began the process this year to procure the KC-Y aerial refueling tanker.

By Scott Hamilton

Originally, this was to follow the KC-X (awarded to Boeing in the form of the KC-46A) to replace the McDonnell Douglas KC-10. This has been altered to be a bridge tanker between the KC-X and the KC-Z, an advanced tanker design that is in the conceptual stage.

The KC-Y promises to be a contest between Boeing, for more KC-46 orders, and a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Airbus based on the A330-200 MRTT. MRTT stands for Multi-Role Tanker Transport. The Lockheed Martin plane is called the LMXT, for now.

The KC-X competition was bitter and repetitive. A partnership between Northrop Grumman and Airbus initially won the contract. But Boeing protested how the USAF scored the bake-off. The General Accounting Office upheld the protest. A new competition saw the contract awarded to Boeing.

KC-Y is only in the Request for Information stage and neither Boeing nor Lockheed have submitted filings yet. But already, the surrogate Boeing campaign appears underway.

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Bjorn’s Corner: The challenges of airliner development. Part 32. Aircraft delivery and EIS

By Bjorn Fehrm, Henry Tam, and Andrew Telesca

December 3, 2021, ©. Leeham News: Last week, we went through typical problems by the start of serial production, such as weight creep and traveled work.

Now we discuss the ins and outs of delivering the aircraft to the customer airline and how we support the aircraft’s entry into service.

Figure 1. A new 19 seater design, the Cessna SkyCourier. Source: Cessna.

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One A380 departure or two 777-200ER alternatively 787-9?

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By Bjorn Fehrm


December 2, 2021, © Leeham News: With the last Airbus A380 rolling of the production line in days, we started looking at why the A380 didn’t sell last week. Now we check its economics for an airline that can fill it. We fly one A380 versus two departures of smaller aircraft on a typical trunk route.

Our analysis takes British Airways as an example and whether it shall use an A380 on Heathrow to LAX at peak traffic or rather two departures with its Boeing 777-200ER or 787-9.

  • When you can fill the A380, it’s surprisingly competitive even against a more modern aircraft like the 787-9.
  • This is when we focus on passengers and cost.
  • We change the analysis angle next week when we add cargo and look at margins rather than cost.

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HOTR: 787 delivery restart appears to slip to April: customers

By the Leeham News Staff

Nov. 30, 2021, © Leeham News: Plans to resume deliveries of the Boeing 787—halted since October 2020—appear to be slipping again.

Customers tell LNA that deliveries may not resume until April, a slip of one or two months from the previous unofficial timeline. Boeing hasn’t announced any timeline, deferring to the Federal Aviation Administration’s review of plans to fix issues related to composite delamination and fuselage section mating.

“As we have previously shared, we are completing comprehensive inspections and associated rework across 787 production and within the supply chain, while holding detailed, transparent discussions with the FAA, suppliers, and our customers,” a Boeing spokesperson wrote LNA in an email.

“Work continues in our production facility and rates will continue to be dynamic as we focus on eliminating traveled work and prioritize resources to support our inspection and rework efforts. We are taking the time needed to ensure the highest levels of quality, and while these efforts will continue to impact deliveries, we’re confident this is the right approach to drive stability and first-time quality across our operations and to position the program for the long term as market demand recovers. None of the issues have been determined to present a safety of flight concern with respect to the active in-service fleet.”

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It’s time for a reality check on ecoAviation

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By Scott Hamilton


Nov. 29, 2021, © Leeham News: The goals are admirable and lofty: cut carbon emissions dramatically.

Boeing wants to have its 7-Series airplanes be 100% compatible with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) by 2030. Whatever Boeing can do, so can Airbus.

Airbus wants to produce the first hydrogen-powered airliner, probably in the 70-seat sector, by 2035.

IATA, the International Air Transport Assn. industry trade group, set 2050 at the target for net-zero emissions.

All great ideas. Industry officials understand the challenges and realities. Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline, minced no words at the IATA AGM in October: Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

For the pie-in-the-sky crowd, the sheer numbers don’t add up. Replacing the thousands of Airbus A320ceos, A330ceos, Boeing 737 NGs, 757s, 767s, 777 Classics, Mitsubishi CRJs, and Embraer E1 jets with their successors—let alone, the successors to the successors—will take decades.

And this doesn’t even count replacement of today’s turboprops with a successor that doesn’t exist, followed by their successors.

  • 20-year Forecast to 2040 shows about 4,000 single-aisle, mainline jets will remain in service by 2040. The majority of these flying today are older generation aircraft.
  • There will be about 1,000 twin-aisle jets flying today that will be flying in 2040. These can be expected to be Boeing 787s, Airbus A350s and a small number of A330neos. Each is more environmentally friendly than previous generations.
  • There will be a handful of four-engine jets flying by 2040, most likely cargo aircraft.
  • Of the sub-100 seat category, there will be fewer than 300 jets flying in 2040 that are flying today. Some of these will likely be end-of-line CRJs plus late-model, older generation E175-E1s. Deliveries of the latter continue well into this decade because the future of the Embraer E175-E2 is uncertain.

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Pontifications: Think tank analyzes KC-Y competitive landscape

Nov. 29, 2021, © Leeham News: A conservative think tank believes the US Air Force must invest not only in another round of aerial refueling tankers. It must also invest in infrastructure and future, innovative designs.

By Scott Hamilton

The Hudson Institute in Washington (DC) issued a study earlier this month in which it analyzed the Air Force’s global refueling requirements. The study may be downloaded here.

While perusing the website and looking at who’s involved with the institute makes it clear this isn’t just a conservative think tank but an overtly partisan one as well, the study appears well thought out and even-handed. It relies on well-reasoned data. The study is unlike Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, whose latest column about the next round of tanker procurement returns to the tiresome and expired whining about illegal subsidies for the Airbus A330-200.

Breaking news to Loren: the WTO case is over. Additional breaking news: subsidies and the WTO aren’t considered in military procurements. The Lexington Institute gets funding from Boeing. It also previously received funding from Lockheed. Thompson did not disclose in this latest missive if it still does.

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Bjorn’s Corner: The challenges of airliner development. Part 31. Serial Production problems

By Bjorn Fehrm, Henry Tam, and Andrew Telesca.

November 26, 2021, ©. Leeham News: Last week, we started our analysis of the serial production phase. If development is filled with revelations and problems to solve, production has it as well.

We start this week by looking at the beginning of serial production, where several issues are overhangs from development. There are areas of the aircraft, though we have achieved our Type Certificate, that are not quite to the maturity level we want for long-term serial production.

Figure 1. A typical aircraft Final Assembly Line (FAL) site. Source: ATR.

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Why the A380 didn’t sell

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By Bjorn Fehrm


November 25, 2021, © Leeham News: The last A380 will be delivered to Emirates in the coming week, after a production run of only 251 units. Why didn’t Airbus sell more?

What was the trouble with the A380? Was it uneconomical, or was there some other problem? We look into the different factors that made it a hard sell to the world’s airlines and support this with comparisons with aircraft that sold better.


  • The A380 had its shares of development problems, mainly in the installation of a complex electrical system. Still, overall the development and production went reasonably well for being a new type for Airbus.
  • We have over the years shown that its seatmile costs were competitive versus alternatives. What was then the problem? Why didn’t it sell?

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Regional Aircraft production

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By Vincent Valery


Nov. 22, 2021, © Leeham News: Last week, LNA looked at Airbus and Boeing’s planned twin-aisle production rates. We now turn our attention to production rates in the regional aircraft market.

The production of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industry-owned CRJ ceased earlier this year, while De Havilland of Canada’s Q400 will also end soon. Few expect production on the latter program to restart.


MHI also halted the development of its MRJ/SpaceJet, with a program restart unlikely at this point. These exits mean that ATR and Embraer will be the only major regional OEMs outside China and Russia.

ATR announced plans to raise its combined ATR42 and ATR72 production to 50 aircraft annually. LNA will investigate whether the turboprop’s order book justifies such an increase.

LNA will separately analyze the Embraer E175 and E-Jet E2 production. Since the E-Jet E2 Embraer program competes with Airbus’ A220, we will also look at production plans on the latter.

  • An optimistic ATR production plan;
  • Comparing E175 and E Jet-E2 production;
  • Steady A220 production plans;
  • Orders at risk;
  • Other OEMs.

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Pontifications: Assessing the future of stand-alone GE Aviation

By Scott Hamilton

Nov. 22, 2021, © Leeham News: GE Aviation’s (GEA) spin-off takes the corporate burden off its back and opens that way to move forward just as commercial aviation should be over the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Scott Hamilton

The engine unit will no longer be dragged down by, and cash diverted to, GE Corp.’s problems. It can raise money for research and development of new engines and for eco-aviation, without it being siphoned off for corporate or sister company uses.

GEA has challenges ahead, to be sure.

The business model for engine companies has been upended, requiring an entirely new approach to selling engines and services. Historically, engine makers often deeply discount engines—up to 80% or more in some cases—and contract maintenance, repair, and overhaul services to make their profits.

As the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely prompted airlines to retire older aircraft, maintenance, repair, and overhaul revenues and profits shrank, sometimes dramatically. And, with a new emphasis on eco-aviation, new planes have engines with warranties and extended on-wing time that pressure MRO revenues.

Breaking up GE Corp. into three major units will take a few years. When it’s over, chairman Larry Culp remains chairman of GE Aviation. John Slattery remains CEO.

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